Dirk Jan A van Mourik and Marc C Willemsen
The Netherlands has been criticised for its slow implementation of FCTC measures, with even a short period of reversal of tobacco control progress between 2010 and 2012. More recently, however, the government has taken a much more positive stance towards tobacco control. One year ago, a four-party coalition came to power, comprising two conservative parties (VVD, CDA) and two progressive parties (D66 and CU). The coalition agreement included the promise to allocate €170 million to tackle alcohol abuse, tobacco consumption and obesity. A National Prevention Accord (NPA) was to be drafted in close corporation with civil society, leading to a selection of policy measures that should both be evidence-based and sufficiently supported by civil society.
A lengthy consultation process was set in motion, with a broad selection of societal and public health organisations asked to commit and contribute to reaching a smoke free generation through their own activities. Although the food and alcohol industry were involved when the talks were about obesity and alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarette representatives were not invited, in line with Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Paul Blokhuis, the responsible State-Secretary for Public Health launched his policy intentions as part of the NPA on November 23rd.
With the NPA, the new government aims to achieve a 100% smoke-free generation and reduce adult smoking prevalence to 5% by 2040. To achieve these long-term aims, the NPA contains important measures for the next several years. These include an increased budget for mass media campaigns and smoking cessation support, an end to smoking sections in cafés and bars, extension of smoke-free areas to include use of electronic cigarettes, plain packaging on tobacco products, smoke-free outdoor school areas, a ban on the point-of-sale display of tobacco, starting in supermarkets, and annual price increases in the pack of cigarettes from around €6.50 now to €10 in 2023. The National Institute for Health and Environment will monitor and periodically report on the NPA’s progress towards reaching the goal of 5% smokers in 2040, stimulating future governments’ commitment to the NPA.
Tobacco control advocates in the Netherlands are hopeful and optimistic about the current state of affairs, but also remain alert, since some of the policy measures still need to be approved by the Dutch parliament. The tobacco industry is also known to vehemently lobby against the NPA, for example through a campaign in which it portrays the government as patronizing and paternalistic.
Dirk Jan A. van Mourik is a PhD scholar at the Department of Health Promotion, Maastricht University (CAPHRI), Maastricht, the Netherlands. Marc C Willemsen is a Professor at the Department of Health Promotion, Maastricht University, and Netherlands Expertise Center for Tobacco Control (NET), Trimbos Institute, Utrecht, the Netherlands.